Waddington Dramatic Society were last seen in May with their hugely successful production of Murdered to Death where we were introduced to the hapless bungling Inspector George Algernon Pratt. This time, they are back with the prequel Sleighed to Death, where we meet a younger but just as incompetent Pratt for his very first case.
As the curtains open, we are greeted with a stage set decorated for Christmas, in the style
of a 1930s Scottish country manor house, complete with tartan wallpaper, dark wooden
panelling, and the Gates family shield prominently displayed over the French windows.
Congratulations to Julie Addison and her team of set builders for creating such an impressive set which instantly creates the atmosphere and sets the time-period.
It is Christmas Eve and Sir Walton Gates (Gary Wright) enters looking every inch the Scottish
Lord, complete with kilt and sporran, singing a random Christmas carol. He then warms
himself mischievously in front of the fire only to be caught in the act by his dour Scottish
secretary, Morag McKay (Julie Addison) who has entered from the office door which is cunningly disguised as a bookcase. Their discussion is interrupted by the arrival of Sir Walton’s glamorous wife, Lady Grace (Dee Horne) who announces that Emma (Kelly Strickland), Sir Walton’s daughter from his previous marriage has arrived for the weekend, and she will require a strong gin! Emma enters but she has brought along her new boyfriend, James Washington (Andy Brown) along for the festivities. Conversation turns to the mysterious character of Archie Gates who is Sir Walton’s younger brother who was despatched to Australia over thirty years ago in disgrace and who has turned up ‘like a bad penny’.
Grace and James are left alone in the sitting room where they reveal that they are in fact
lovers from years ago as they quickly reconcile and, as they passionately kiss, they are seen
through the window by a bemused Sergeant Pratt (Neil Markland). Once the coast is clear, Pratt enters disguised as Santa Claus shaking his collection tin and is greeted by Emma who mistakenly thinks he is her Uncle Archie. Pratt confirms that he is in fact offering to perform a ‘peripathetic magic show’ and Emma delightedly invites him to perform later that evening. Pratt calls in his long-suffering partner Mary Potter (Jade Canavan) who is very disgruntled to be working on Christmas Eve and especially while dressed as ‘the Arch Angel Gabriel’ as the would-be magician’s reluctant assistant.
As Emma leaves, Archie (Tony Graves) enters through the French windows and is bemused
to see Pratt and Potter there and Pratt is equally confused as to his Australian accent. He
notices that Archie has a large tear in his shorts to which Archie replies that he must have
snagged them on the paddock fence while on a walkabout around the garden. Archie tries
unsuccessfully to flirt with Potter who rebuffs his advances. Archie tells them that the lady
who was looking after them must have been Lady Gates, but he can’t understand why she
would bother with his brother who is in his opinion is a bit of ‘an old duffer.’
Walton and Morag re-enter and Pratt talks about his magic show and that he is willing
to perform some tricks for them later than evening. Morag is not convinced on his credentials believing him to be a ‘charlatan’ but agrees to help by passing a secret note
to Lady Gates. So, the scene is set for the magic show with Pratt showing himself to be thoroughly incompetent in their execution and at one point removing his top hat to reveal - nothing! He ruefully admits that normally there would be a ferret sitting on top of his head as Potter confirms that Doris the ferret has escaped behind the skirting boards, much to Morag’s aggravation who is clearly terrified of ‘wee creatures!’
During a catalogue of hilarious mishaps with the tricks, Pratt moves onto his final trick ‘The
Catching of the Bullet Between the Teeth’ and approaches Emma mistakenly believing her
to be Lady Gates. Morag informs him that she is in fact his daughter and Lady Gates reveals
herself much to Pratt’s dismay. Walton explains that Grace was his second wife as his first
had died following a tragic accident in the garden.
Pratt blurts out that he has seen Lady Gates and James kissing on the couch earlier that afternoon! Fortunately, Lady Grace manages to reassure her stunned husband that what had been witnessed was in fact a misunderstanding with the clasp of her pearl necklace. Grace refuses to take part in the trick so Morag suggests that Miss Emma would be the ideal candidate. Emma is shown the mechanics of the trick, hiding behind the curtain as Pratt fires a blank shot and she would then pretend to catch the bullet. Pratt fires the bullet and there is a smash of glass - much to Lady Grace’s horror. Pratt fires again and the blank bullet is quickly shown to be a live round as another bullet hole is in the glass and poor Miss Emma is slumped unconscious behind the door. James rushes to her aid, Grace screams and Pratt looks guilty down at his revolver.
As the curtain rises, it is five minutes after the event and now the questions really start. Potter works out that someone must have tampered with the gun to frame Pratt into shooting poor Miss Emma. Pratt starts to interrogate the family and Potter discovers a piece of Archie’s shorts in Morag’s office. Archie states that he had asked Morag to mend the tear and she confirms that she had taken the material into her office to find the best colour match so that she could mend them for him.
As the family are further questioned, Grace accuses Archie and Emma of conspiring to murder her. As tensions are running high, Pratt reluctantly allows the family to leave to have their evening meal but insists that no one should leave the house meaning that Morag would have to stay the night.
Potter comes up with a ruse that they should tell the family they were leaving and that they would have the gun checked for fingerprints hoping to flush out the culprit who had meddled with the gun. Pratt sends Potter to tell the family of their ‘plan’ and gets Potter to patrol outside. The scene is then set for the hilarious denouncement as more secrets and lies are revealed and exposed, but can Pratt save them all from being Sleighed to Death? All the cast play their parts brilliantly fully inhabiting their characters as they tell this convoluted story of mistaken identities and bitter family rivalries. Gary Wright plays Sir Walton with his natural Scottish accent and the addition of a grating laugh that could strip paint. He is obviously painfully oblivious to his surroundings and the web of intrigue forming around him. Dee as his wife is a fragrant gracious delight who changes from teeth- clenching forced politeness to girlish gleeful giggles once reconciled with her former lover. Andy Brown as Lady Grace’s duplicitous lover shows an innate sense of comic timing especially when reacting to Sir Walton and Pratt and even though he’s a bounder and a cad one can’t help having a soft spot for him. Newcomer, Kelly Strickland, plays the ingenue lisping Miss Emma trying her very best to a be a femme fatale but failing miserably. I particularly loved her melt-down when she finally realises that James has been two-timing her with Grace. Julie Addison played the dour secretary Morag McKay keeping her Scottish accent and morose demeanour throughout - her sarcastic comments delivered with a wit that could cut cool cucumbers. Tony Graves as Archie Gates plays the Aussie part expertly one can believe he truly is an antipodean bumpkin from New South Wales.
Then we come to the sleuthing duo trying to crack the ‘non-crime of the century’ and here is where the true comedy of the shows lies. Another newbie to the group is Jade Canavan who plays the frustrated frumpish Mary Potter with gauche awkwardness your toes are practically curling as she tries to deal with her incompetent boss. A highlight is the excruciatingly embarrassing magic show with Potter as Pratt’s self- conscious assistant which Canavan handles brilliantly upstaging him with her ill-timed jazz hand ‘ta das’.
The gawkiness of Potter is perfectly offset against Pratt played wonderfully by Neil Markland. Markland has thoroughly absorbed the character of Pratt until he is part of his own DNA. Every faux pas and malapropism he makes is a deft brushstroke in the creation of this comedy masterpiece. From physical comedy to his facial expressions, Markland has taken this character and made him believable - someone who we can even have some sympathy with.
Congratulations to the directing team; Julie Addison and Maria Wagstaff. This is Maria’s directing debut and together they have created a slick, pacy comedy and Kayleigh Hellard for providing behind the scenes stage management and prompting.
Well done to David Ridout and Peter Cheseldine for providing the sound and lighting and special effects. The lighting, though basic, was very well timed and set the mood for each scene change perfectly. Special lighting such as the Christmas tree and the fire were especially effective. The use of microphones ensured that not a word of the plot was missed.
Well done to Jane Kelly for creating the colour palette for the costumes and ensuring the 1930s vibe.
All in all, a fantastic show that will leave you laughing long after you’ve left the building. But whodunnit and whydunnit? Well, you’ll just have to watch and find out! As Pratt says at the end of the show - keep the secret...
Tickets available from
www.ticketsource.co.uk/waddington-dramatic-society or call 07368 627074.